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Sounds of Thunder: Kevin Durant doth protest too much, methinks.

What the bard tells of Kevin Durant’s folly

Obviously the title of this post borrows from Act III, Scene II of Shakespeare’s ageless play, Hamlet. Over the centuries paraphrasing the Bard’s famous quote has come to describe someone's frequent attempts to convince others of some matter of which the opposite is true or the truth does not cast them in a positive light. The real truth only needs to be told once and repeating a narrative, especially when it varies, comes off insincere and defensive, thus the title.

That is the position Kevin Durant finds himself in after his controversial decision to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder and jump to the team they lost to in the Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors. The move has put him in a bad light and the excuses offered for making it don’t hold water.

Let’s not mince words. Leaving a team is one thing. Looking for a change is another, but leaving a team for the team you should have but couldn’t beat just isn’t done. Simply put, in competitive circles, it’s weak:

Durant knew this. Knew it all too well and almost before the representatives from the Warriors had time to hang up their hats to start the now infamous meetings in the Hamptons, Durant wanted to know how to get around the stigma of being labeled a band-wagoner and a villian:

First hour: Management and coaching staff took center stage, with Durant quietly listening for most of the time while general manager Bob Myers, coach Steve Kerr and Lacob painted a picture of what Durant could expect and how they’d try to take over the NBA in years to come. The Warriors were struck by one thing early: Durant, quite clearly, was concerned with the PR hit he would likely take by leaving the Thunder behind to join the team that had beaten him in the Western Conference Finals. He didn’t want to be seen as a villain, and wanted to know how they saw that sensitive part of this whole picture.

Their sense, from there until the end, was that he wanted to join the Warriors but may not have the stomach to actually go through with it.

And for the last 6 12 months that is what Durant and Golden State’s PR doctors have been doing. Spinning one yarn after another attempting to whitewash Durant’s decision.

Rather than rehash those excuses, read this post from October 23.

For the majority of his life, Kevin Durant was always cast as the hero. Donning the white hat, firing silver bullets while mounted on a white charger and he liked it. According to Taras Brown, Durant’s longtime coach and mentor, this all started when Durant was just 11 years old. That’s when Brown recognized that Durant was a possible generational talent, latched on to the Durant Express and started molding him to become a NBA superstar and Durant has been defecating nothing but rose petals ever since.

That changed on July 4th, 2016 when he jumped on the Golden State bandwagon. Brown said he hasn’t seen Durant this happy since his AAU days when he was teamed up with the likes of Michael Beasley, Ty Lawson, and Jerome Dyson and that’s just fine, but if Durant expects everyone to respect his decision as a man to control his own life then he should understand he is then expected to act accordingly and accept the consequences. His white charger ran off and stomped the big white hat in the mud on the way out.

Unfortunately, such has not been the case. Durant wants to turn his back on an organization that catered to his every whim, jump on a star studded team that takes the pressure off, and wants to regain his pristine hero image to boot. For good measure, he also wants any excuse he throws out there accepted at face value and without question.

The only 100 % truth that has come to light since this whole soap opera began came when Durant admitted that sending a text to Russell Westbrook instead of calling him regarding his decision was wrong. That is the truth.... and that is where this little story could have ended... but it hasn’t.

In a recent podcast, Durant’s mentor, Taras Brown, fired up the spin machine again and when asked about Durant’s decision to leave OKC, rather than just saying something along the line of Durant felt it was what he wanted or needed to do, he took his turn taking passive aggressive potshots at the Thunder such as Durant is finally able to show off his post up moves and his ability to dish the ball to teammates. Holy smokes Taras! Posting up shorter, weaker defenders and moving the ball when double teamed is what Durant was put in a position to do last season and the only thing that prevented Durant from doing those things was Durant himself.

Those shards of fiction were bad enough, but when Brown alluded there were Thunder players not giving it their all.... that crossed the line.

Game six of the Western Conference Finals was played seven months ago. The Thunder lost that home game by seven and the letdown was so palpable there were very very few that felt the Thunder could rebound and pull off game seven on the road. After two nearly flawless performances in games 3 and 4, winning by a combined margin of 52 and putting the defending champs in a 3 to 1 hole, something changed in games 5 and 6 and whether he and his posse are willing to admit it or not, that change came from Kevin Durant.

After taking 39 total shots in games 3 and 4, both big Thunder wins, Durant suddenly forgets the magic formula for beating the Warriors, ball movement and teamwork, and jacks up 62 shots in the games 5 and 6 losses.

Andre Iguadala told a Breakfast Club audience in July:

“we talked them down”.

That is how Iguodala says the Warriors beat the Thunder, talked them down. Let’s analyze this “them” for a moment. Russell Westbrook? Averaged a point above his season average in games 3 thru 6, 10 assists per game, right on his average, and shot 42.5% overall. Again, right on his season average. Russ was just Russ. Had his ups, had his downs, full speed ahead, and bottom line, extended his contract with a weaker team than he had just played for. He’s never been talked down from anything.

How about the other Thunder players. Those not named Westbrook or Durant. Ibaka, Roberson, Waiters, Adams, or Kanter: Did they falter in games 5 and 6? Did they “not give it their all” as Brown accuses them? Let’s look at some numbers and see because when the dust settles, it was these role players that stood in the shadows and fought their guts out for Kevin Durant all season and the group he turned his back on July 4th.

As stated, the Thunder won games 3 and 4 by 52 points. How were they able to so dominate a team that set a regular season record for wins? USA TODAY Sports Sam Amick states it very simply and very plainly:

After a season in which the Thunder were always in the shadows, this much has officially come to light now that they’re up 3-1 over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals: They’re coming together in the kind of wild and wonderful way that could most certainly lead to a title. This 118-94 whooping in Game 4 on Tuesday did more than just give them a 3-1 series edge.

It continued a pattern of play so impressive – seven wins in nine games against the San Antonio Spurs and Warriors teams that stole the headlines all season – that it’s impossible not to believe in their overwhelming brand of basketball. For the first time since Games 2 and 3 of the 2015 Finals, the Warriors lost consecutive games because the Thunder’s stars meshed so seamlessly with their reserves.

(emphasis mine)

It seems Iguodala wasn’t the only person on the planet that felt the Thunder were the the best team in the playoffs. The two-headed iso-monster appeared dead for good. The Thunder were attacking from everywhere and the Warriors had no answers. Amick adds:

The Warriors, who had the fourth-best defense in the league during the regular season, simply couldn’t stop a Thunder trio that went retro at the right time. Durant (18 points) and Westbrook (21) scoring big was no new revelation, but Ibaka – who had averaged 11.2 points in the 14 playoff games coming in – added 15 points before the break. They finished the half on a 28-13 run, all while becoming the first team to score at least 72 points in a half during a playoff game since 1987 (the Lakers did it against the Denver Nuggets on April 23 and April 25).

(Amick forgets the Thunder scored 72 in the first half of game 3 but no matter, keep Ibaka in your mind later on)

Amick also points to rebounds and Warrior turnovers in his article as big factors. To win game 6 the Thunder needed at least 109 points. They scored 133, 118, and 111 in the three previous games, and 101 in game six. In the game 3 and 4 blowouts the team took 92 and 90 shots, in the losses 91 and 90. Offensive boards for games 3 and 4? 11 and 16. games 5 and 6? 13 and 16. Warrior turnovers games 3 and 4? 13 and 21. games 5 and 6? 15 and 14.

Nothing indicating any letdown from the role players so far, what about shooting? Surely that would explain Durant’s sudden urge to jack up 31 shots in back to back games. To pick up his slumping (and not giving it their all) teammates? In games 3 and 4, anyone not named Westbrook or Durant combined to shoot 44.8 and 48.7% consecutively. In games 5 and 6? 50 and 56%.

Wait a second. Let’s take a bit of time on this one. The role players shot better each game, but the team’s total scoring dropped in each game from 133, to 118, to 111, and finally to 101 in game 6. Why? Very simple. Durant took 15, 24, 31, and again 31 shots.

Listen to Durant’s response to the final question of the post game interview after game 5:

Number one, Westbrook took one more shot in game 5 than game 4 so the onus of the question and the extra shots was clearly on Durant. The question was a good one, because the numbers clearly show that the more Durant got his teammates involved, the better his numbers were. Game 3, Durant took 15 shots, made 10, 66.7%. Game 4, Durant took 24 shots, made 8 of them, 33%. Game 5? 31 shots, made 12, 38.7%. Game 6? 31 shots, made 10, 32.3%.

In his answer Durant focuses on the 4 extra shots that fell vs game 4 but conveniently ignores the 14 that didn’t compared to game 3. Other questioners mentioned the Thunder offense looking out of sync but this question about ignoring the guys around him cut right to the heart of the problem and Durant got defensive as a result and responded, “no, that’s who we are, we have to be aggressive... when they are going in you don’t say anything....”

Actually, plenty is said and has been said, even on hot shooting nights, but that wasn’t the primary point of the question. Durant had completely turned his back on a working formula. A formula the Warriors had no clue how to stop and his answer threw up more warning flags than a 20 car pile up at Daytona. The consensus in the WTLC war room was that he answered on the spur of the moment before looking at film but unfortunately Durant’s game 6 performance, an almost mirror image to game 5, left that theory dead in its tracks.

Let’s look at some film from game 6:

This first clip is a trend setter for the ones that follow. There are 20 seconds remaining on the shot clock, Durant has 3 options, Westbrook for an uncontested lob being the best and Durant opts for a wild floater from the free throw line.

In of itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad shot until you consider Amick’s key to the Thunder’s dominance in games 3 and 4, the Thunder stars meshing seamlessly with their reserves. What he failed to mention is that process started very early. This is the second opportunity in a row to get the ball to a wide open Serge Ibaka on the wing. There is another option to Steven Adams flying uncontested into the paint for one of his patented “bring down the roof” Thunder dunks.

This is three clips in a row. Serge Ibaka wide open on the wing and Durant drives into a double team and attempts.... whatever that was.

Really?!? Fourteen seconds left on the shot clock and the best Durant can come up with is a 30 foot fade-away? fading from who? An invisible booger man?

Four of five clips in which Durant ignores a wide open Serge Ibaka. By this time the Warriors are so focused on Durant that Ibaka is able to waltz untouched to the rim for the put back.

Five of six now. All Warrior eyes on Durant because they know that ball isn’t going to anyone else (is that you Carmello?), Adams driving behind the defense, ready for the ball and the dunk, with Serge wide open and waiving in the corner like he is saying “bye Superstar, I’ll see you in Orlando” as Durant drives into yet another double team and another miss.

Eighteen seconds left on the shot clock and our hero that has already clanked sixteen stinkers feels a closely guarded fade away is preferable to a wide open corner attempt by Dion Waiters.

Look at the score, look at the time on the shot clock..... look at one of the best rim attackers on the planet running unnoticed at the bottom of the screen and look at Durant again driving into a double team. Now see Durant dribble the ball off his foot. Oh well, it happens from time to time with 6’10” players that don’t handle the ball as well as they think they can. It’s not the end of the world. The team has a nice lead, there is plenty of shot clock, just reset and run a play..... right?... (insert game show buzzer sound effect)..... wrong ..... you forget you have 4 teammates, pick up the ball and toss up a heavily contested shot like a ten year old would. My bad.

Your lead is beginning to dwindle and you’re shooting just 33% with 11 seconds on the shot clock, borrowing Dennis Hopper’s line from the movie Speed....

Isn’t it obvious? You drive into yet ANOTHER double-team and blow ANOTHER possession. You forget that four teammates are standing wide open and unnoticed and you drive that mo-fo down their throat like you have good sense!!!

Over the top? Of course it is, but that is what Taras Brown would have you believe Donovan was limiting Durant to with his off-handed remark that Durant can finally show off his passing skills.

Granted, this one is a little tougher with the ball being inbounded with only 7 seconds on the clock but hasn’t Durant learned his lesson about driving into the double-team yet? Apparently not. Again, all eyes glued on #35 and Serge Ibaka never gets a second thought standing wide open on the wing.

There will be those that argue that Ibaka was only 1 of 6 from beyond the arc himself, but fail to recognize that after halftime Ibaka took a grand total of 2 shots. If not Ibaka, why not Waiters for an even higher percentage wide open 3? Or Westbrook slashing uncontested along the baseline?

Options were available, as there were in every clip shown. Options carefully developed over the course of an entire season with the specific purpose of moving beyond the old Brooks 2-man isolation days with these big game situations in mind. Obviously no one is perfect, but after two nearly flawless games the shear number of bad decisions made in games 5 and 6 is mind boggling. Face it Taras Brown, the Thunder owned the Warriors and your guy is who Iguodala and the Warriors “talked down”.

Even more options are supposed to be at Durant’s disposal at Golden State but unfortunately, there is one little problem with options and it comes directly from the word’s root. In order for options to be effective one must “opt” to take advantage of them and Durant has a bad habit of doing the opposite. Take the recent Warriors’ loss to the Grizzlies and Draymond Green’s post-game comments for example:

An oh too familiar scenario to Thunder fans, coaches, and players. Durant limiting his options and going iso. Remember Durant’s comment in the press conference after game 5 when he said, “y’all don’t say anything when we make ‘em”? Well, just for the record, isn’t that Draymond Green having the hissy fit on the far sideline before the shot is even taken?

Further, isn’t that same Draymond Green sitting on the hotseat after that shot calling the Warriors 4th quarter offense “atrocious”? Saying there are “things” we need to correct? Things? What things? The only “thing” that has changed at Golden State is the addition of Kevin Durant and the Memphis game isn’t the only time this thing has been a problem. Green mentions games against Cleveland, Portland, and Toronto. Did he overlook San Antonio?

How bad is it at Golden State in the 4th quarter? Let’s look:

NBA.com/Stats

Oh sure, you can see it in the +/- column and shooting percentages. Oops, those are OKC’s period splits from last season.

This season:

NBA.com/Stats

Interesting. Lose the “second best” player on the planet and a team’s worst shooting quarter becomes their best.... go figure.

So what was Green upset about that night against the Grizzlies? Could it be that the Warriors had their small line-up on the floor, the so-called “death line-up”, and the post player was playing point guard and expecting the team’s weakest player to do his job for him?

Interesting.

What happened to that new freedom to show off those post moves Brown brags about on the podcast? It’s a little hard to show off all those post moves if you’re not posting up but apparently that’s how the world looks from Durant’s perch on high or should I say the high perch Durant wants to get back on?

Sadly, over the course of the next few weeks this Durant drama is going to reemerge in full force. The Thunder and Warriors meet in Oklahoma City for the first time this season on February 11th with All Star week right on its heels and the writers at NBA.com Writers BLOGTABLE were recently posed this question, Assuming they’re All-Star teammates next month in New Orleans, do you see Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant re-connecting and patching things up?

To which Shaun Powell replied:

If I'm Kevin Durant, I tell Russell Westbrook to spare me any pleasantries. Westbrook had that chance at least on two occasions this season and behaved like a spoiled and petty teenager. KD gave Russ some of the best years of his career. KD defended Russ when Mark Cuban said Russ wasn't a franchise player. KD praised Russ when he won the MVP trophy. This is all on Russ, not KD, who should get the message and keep his distance.

Mr Powell conveniently forgets that Russell gave Durant every year of his career and that he never asked for or needed Durant’s toadyisms. He is perfectly capable of speaking up for himself and to date has yet to ask for anyone’s praise or approval. This is not on Russell. It’s all on Durant. He chose to quit the fight, not Russell, and then opted to text the bad news rather than call. While Durant’s camp was blaming Russell, blaming the OKC fans, and blaming the Thunder organization for his decision, Westbrook stayed silent.

Westbrook gave Durant every opportunity to pick up the phone so they could discuss it like men before commenting on the subject and yet Powell labels him as the spoiled and petty teenager. His accusations are based on two occasions Russ wouldn’t kiss and make up when the two were on opposite sides of the court on national TV and I trump those two public occasions with 4 months to pick up the phone to make it right, in private, that Durant chose to ignore. Durant made his own bed and for whatever reason Powell is offended that Westbrook refuses to play his childish game and sleep in it? Amazing.

I do agree with one sentiment however, Durant should keep his distance and go one better, he should also put a muzzle on his posse. If he wants to get back on that high horse he craves so badly or ever make things right with Westbrook he needs to start by taking the high road and a good start in that direction would be taking responsibility for his own actions.